The BIG Debate: Curve Balls, How Old?

I can remember driving all day to watch, what many local high school coaches were calling the "Next" MLB superstar...But what I saw was nothing remotely close to a SuperStar. In fact, this young man would never pitch in college much less the MLB...Because it was obvious he'd fallen in love with the curveball at an early age.

And sadly, I see this a lot.

Young pitchers experience tremendous success at the lower levels for one simple reason....Hitters struggle with the curveball. So, what I'm about to share with you goes against traditional thought when it comes to "What age should young pitchers begin throwing the curveball"...Depending on what scientific journal you're looking at, you're going to find conflicting reports.

Several studies advise against throwing the curve ball. Not this one. The following is an excerpt taken from “Risk of Serious Injury for Young Baseball Pitchers : A 10-Year Prospective Study,” Glenn S. Fleisig, James R. Andrews, et al., Am. J. Sports Med. (2011) Inside this study it stated that curveballs aren't to blame for pitchers elbow pain or arm injuries.

Thus, the true risk of serious injuries to youth baseball pitchers is unknown, and the risk factors leading to these injuries are unproven.

Well if it hasn't been proven to increase the likelihood of injury, what's the problem?

Pitcher's never learn the importance of the fast ball and how to use it. They never develop:

  • Location & Feel
  • Speed changes
  • Movement
  • Velocity


While recruiting, it's common place to see high school pitchers that are 13-2 or 12-0 and have no chance of pitching at the college level. They are prime examples of pitchers developing a dependency on the curve ball. Their thought process becomes to show the fastball and use the curve ball. Basically, the curve ball is their #1 and the fast ball is #2. As you can probably guess, both their command and velocity end up being below average. I don't know, but I have to think these guys learned a curve ball at an early age, experienced success, and it was down hill from there.

Every curve ball thrown by a young pitcher equals one less fast ball. Pitcher's that throw more curve balls will develop a curve ball, pitchers that throw fast balls will develop a fast ball. You choose.
If you watch enough baseball, you will find there's a lot of hitters that struggle with breaking balls. It's evident at all levels, even more evident with younger age groups. Therefore, the pitcher achieves instant success. And let's face it, it's pretty cool being able to make the ball "curve".

The youth pitcher's intent becomes more focused on a better curve ball.

He doesn't try to throw the ball harder very frequently and in doing so, drastically decreases his chances of learning to throw the ball harder.

Meanwhile, he becomes dependent on the curve ball for success. The curve ball becomes a part of his repertoire and trickles into his everyday routine. He doesn't learn the importance of pitching off the fastball. The pitcher doesn't have to worry about throwing the fastball for a strike, he can do that with the curve ball and besides if it isn't a strike, they will swing anyway. The development process is stunted! The next step in the process, wait until he fails!

Most players aren't willing to make a change if they are experiencing success with what they already do.

"If it ain't broke, why fix it?" Because most of the mechanics and movement patterns are formed in our earlier years. The older we become, the harder it is to change or alter these patterns. Everything you do is a pattern and throwing a curve ball creates patterns to benefit the curve ball. The same is true for the fast ball.

Case in point.

A couple of weeks during a break in sessions, I asked both Neil Ramirez and Justin Grimm the same question.  "How do you guys throw so hard?"  "Have you ever asked yourself that question?"

Both look at me and without even blinking they say, "I don't know, I've always tried to throw hard."

Justin says...."I didn't pitch much when I was young.  I actually played center field and I can remember...(At this moment he starts laughing), "Whenever the ball was hit to me, I would try to throw it over the back-stop and hit the concession stand!"

Neil Ramirez laughs and then says...."I mostly played shortstop and the only thing I ever tried to do was knock off the first basemen's glove...It got to the point, my coach would tell me to stop.  But, I never did."

You think this is a coincidence? I don't. If I had to guess, I'd say I've had close to 20 pitchers that could run it up around 98-100 mph and if you asked each the same question...."How do you think you're able to throw so hard?"  I'm 100% convinced, most answers would be similar to Justin's and Neil's...."I've always tried to."

Getting back to my original point on the main problem with the curveball is this.

The biggest problem with pitchers throwing the curveball at an early age isn't necessary the risk for injury, but the risk of slowing down the fastball/velocity development process.

If it is more important for 10 yrs old to be the highlight of his career, then throw the curve ball. If not, developing the fastball should be the top priority for all youth pitchers and youth leagues.  Why is there such an urgency for the curve ball and instant rewards? Travel ball! It seems there is a need to win right now in the world of travel ball and the development process is secondary at best.

Instead, it's all about winning. The pitcher wants to make the team, he wants to WIN and believes the curve ball will be the answer. Personally, I think the breaking ball is an easy pitch to learn so why rush it now?

Take winning out of the equation and place development first.

The youth pitcher should learn:

1. The fastball is the most important pitch in baseball.

2. If he wants to throw harder, he has to try and throw harder.

3. Learning to feel the difference between balls and strikes is more important than throwing a secondary pitch.

4. The first off-speed learned should be a secondary fastball.

5. Learn to pitch off your fastball at an early age and you will be a step ahead of the competition into the high school years and beyond.

The curveball is a very easy pitch to teach and there should be no rush to learn. Take winning out of the equation if it means having to throw the curveball. Teach the pitcher the importance of throwing the fastball and the importance of the intent to try and throw it harder. Sooner or later, he will be evaluated by his fastball if his plans are to pitch above the High School level.

Right or wrong, the radar gun plays a big part in the way pitchers are evaluated and recruited.

CLICK the box below to discover the perfect time to start throwing the curveball.... I'm sure my answer is going to surprise you!


Trust what you FEEL! 


Terry Ray (not verified)

Thank you for confirming what I have been telling young pitchers for 40 years! Keep up the good work!

Lantz (not verified)


Thanks for the comment. Yeah, I think we could all learn something from the old school pitching approach.

Zita Carno (not verified)

I was eleven years old when I discovered that I had a natural sidearm delivery---and what came attached to it was a natural curveball. I figured, well, I have a curveball, let me see what I can do with it. I never had a fast ball to speak of, but I threw hard and used a slide-step. I experimented with that curve and found that it was most effective when I threw it with a sharp karate-chop wrist snap, which gave that pitch a very nasty break, and a bit later I found a good knuckle-curve (which became my second-best pitch) and acquired a palm ball---my first changeup and a good one it was. Later on I learned the slider, which became my strikeout pitch, and I picked up a nice assortment of changeups...and then, quite by accident, I got myself a pretty good 81MPH four-seamer which my incredible pitching coach told me was, for a finesse pitcher like me, a fastball.
There are those who insist that a young pitcher should not throw anything resembling a breaking pitch. I disagree. If a pitcher 11, 12 years old has a natural curve or other breaking pitch and can throw it comfortably and with good command, let him/her throw it and show him/her how to take full advantage of it. There really is no hard-and-fast rule regarding this.
Season's greetings.

Chris (not verified)

I'm with you all.

The point on intent is my key. If the player is throwing always with proper explosive intent and has learned and trained to execute any given pitch to attack their opponent, I'm in favor. (The above is conditioned upon that player knowing how to throw that pitch safely.)

Breaking balls and change-ups are attack pitches, thrown with fastball mechanics and mental processes. The movement / surprise element of these pitches comes from the inefficiency associated with the way that force or impulse is imparted to the ball, producing spin and velocity characteristics.

Are there different mechanics to these pitches? Maybe. Ask a pitcher. But from a coaching perspective, I ask my players to get a feel for the pitch. We call it 'getting your touch on the pitch' and we practice in blocked sets with concentrated mental rehearsals of the feeling of driving that throw down into it's target. If it produces variations in release points etc., these things are completely within the pitcher's 'touch' domain.

If still done as an attack with explosive intent, it's never different. Fastball, curveball... they're both the same throw: vicious. But by the way, we spend most of our time learning to recruit every drop of our body's force to throw and locate fastballs. Once a player has that, they experiment with other nasty things they can do. ;-)


Tom Cahill (not verified)

Lantz :
1. Most major league pitchers with outstanding curveballs began throwing
the pitch in their early teens. Don Sutton & Burt Blyleven come to mind.
I feel that, if thrown correctly, the curveball poses no more danger to the arm than any other pitch.
2. You are dead on re: your thoughts about the fastball. I first heard the saying
about "if you want to throw hard, practice throwing hard" from Rick Knapp,
who was at the time the Twins minor league pitching coordinator.
3. What's the point of trying to develop multiple off speed pitches, especially
in youth baseball if a kid hasn't mastered his fastball ? Better to excel at one thing than to be mediocre at 3.
I hope that your message is heard & taken to heart.
Good stuff.

Lantz (not verified)


I agree on all points. The issue with a properly thrown curveball is that most aren't taught to throw it properly.

I head that Blyleven learned to throw the breaking ball by listening to the radio announcers describe the action of the breaking ball. Based on his perception of what he visualized, he came up with his unique grip.

Thanks for taking the time to comment Tom.


Tom (not verified)

Hi Lantz:

Thanks for your article. I have a son, an 11U, trying to develop his pitching. It seems that his peers on the select and All-Star teams are already pitching curves. They pitch well and consequently, our son doesn't get to pitch because he only can pitch a fastball and a change up. But his peers successes are tempting us to develop the curve for our son as well. However, we'll stick with the further developing of his fastball and change up and stay away from breaking balls. Thanks, again.

Larry (not verified)

My oldest son is 13 and he's been fastball change up only. There were other kids in town who threw much harder than him when they were 9-10-11, most of them threw curveballs too and most were better than him. He started catching up to them last year and now he's passed most of them (it helps that he's 6'1").

It just seemed intuitive to me that if you relied on your curve at 11, when even a bad curveball is pretty effective, for the offspeed nature as much as for the break, you wouldn't work as much to throw harder. It's nice to read something to reinforce that.

Overemphasizing winning at young levels does so much harm in so many ways.

Lantz Wheeler (not verified)

Hey Larry,

Love your thought process, need more parents like you! Keep up the good work and thanks for commenting.


J P (not verified)

My son was taught the curve at 11 by one of the most respected mlb pitching coaches. He said he was ready and I figured he should learn to do it right. The first season he did not have any problems but he missed most of his 12 year old season with a hurt elbow. His fast ball was in the high 60s at 12. He has not thrown a curveball for 2 seasons. He is now 14 and has been able to hold even the best teams to a few runs this season with only a fastball. He is the only pitcher in his league I have seen not throwing a curve. The problem with having a curve, is that the child or parent has no control over how many are thrown. All pitches are called by the coaches on every team here in Ga. If you have a good curve, the hitters can not hit it and the coaches over use it. I am reluctant in having my son throw one again because of this, but he is going to need it. I really do not know how to handle it or when to start.

Greg Maxwell (not verified)

People take the path of least resistance. If a kid can get batters out throwing breaking balls, he will. And your ability to locate the fastball is not developed fully. Most youth pitchers pitch too much. They are on their LL teams and also these AAU/travel teams. Throw in fall ball and winter training and these young arms never get to recover.

Lantz Wheeler (not verified)


Thanks for taking the time to comment. I like many of your points and you make it hard to disagree.


Patricia Martin (not verified)

Interesting information. I come from Papua New Guinea, a country where Baseball is not played. What got me interested were two movies I watched, both had something to do with baseball. One was titled "42" and another "Trouble with the curve". I like watching and reviewing movies and so I kept thinking about the "curve-ball' and decided to read further which lead me to your article. Is there something significant about the 'curve-ball' for it to be an important and determining aspect in the film 'Trouble with the curve'?

JCM (not verified)

Wow. Very enlightening. I learned something big today and convinced on the fastball development over the curve ball. Articles like these make us better coaches.

Bill (not verified)'s kinda hard to get good hitters out once you get to 11 years old without having a curveball. And, those kids who are good enough to throw an effective curveball usually are those with decent fastballs too. I don't see the good pitchers who use curves throwing them more than 25% of the time. That's still alot of fastballs.

Eric (not verified)

Bill I diasgree. My son is 13 & plays travel ball against really good 14 yr olds. He is 7th grade & plays against many kids that are freshmen. He has never thrown a curve but has developed 4 & 2 seam fastballs & a nasty change that dives about 3 ft from the plate. He is consistently getting out a lot of these kids because he has learned to keep the ball at the knees & work both sides of the plate. Mix in that nasty change also. I see many kids in that triple crown league that rely on curves because most kids can't stay back due to lack of bat speed. I do agree with the author that they will suffer from not being able to use fastballs as they mature.

Muuurph (not verified)

So my 13 year old thinks this may be his last year of baseball. He does not play travel, by his choice, and thus probably has no shot of playing even in high school if he does keep playing. What I get from this article is there is no reason to not teach him the curve and let him throw it his last year or 2 of baseball, since we have no delusions of him playing at a higher level. It won't blow out his arm and cause him pain, right?

Lantz Wheeler (not verified)


That's a question you'll have to answer yourself.


kenneth shepherd (not verified)

my grandson is another big kid, 14yo sits 80-81 and can get 85 on occasion, plays travel ball on a national level, Sill doesn't throw a curve ball, fast ball, cut fast ball, change and just recent a little slider but still 80% fast balls, i tell him until they can hit your fast ball why you need the others, keep them off balance with the change ( he throws a split ) and throw fast balls, he throws cutter or hard sinker to get the ground ball, haven't found a need for a curve

Rob Robinson (not verified)

My son is 10 and plays travel ball all over the SE United States. Our coach does not teach curveballs,
Only fastballs, change ups, two seamer or a cut fast ball. He has stressed he will lose a tourney before he will let our pitchers throw a curve because we are not playing for now we are playing for the future. We have won numerous big tournaments including a 9u national championship last summer. Spot the fastball and keep them of balance with the change up is his motto.

Kurt (not verified)

My son is 13 throws 5-10 mph faster than anyone on his team just throwing fastballs and the occasional change up but after about 30 - 40 pitches he has complaints of pain in his elbow. After he says that he has pain I won't let him even throw a ball for 3-5 days and after that will let him throw at a slow pace until he feels comfortable throwing hard again. Is there anything else that you recommend I try to do?

Lantz Wheeler (not verified)

Hey Kurt,

I think you're on the right track, need more conscious dad's like yourself. I'd begin by looking at his throwing program, sounds like there may be an issue there. Not to mention, his bullpen process. Start there.

Thanks for taking the time to comment!


Franklyn C. (not verified)

Thank you for sharing. It's great to hear the real true if you want to play above high school level.
I used to pitch before an arm injury but I was taught that fastball was my priority then a second fastball like a cutter, change up and curveball was my last.

Karen Crumlich (not verified)

As a parent back in the early 2000's Iof a 10 year old who wanted to pitch I was lucky to find a pitching coach who was about fundamentals. I remember my son asking when would he learn a new pitch other than the fastball and the coach saying when you learn to throw your fastball to the different locations and hit them all with speed and accuracy. My son didn't throw a curve until he was 16. Winning isn't everything , he played on teams that won but with pitchers who threw nothing but off speed fastballs and fastballs. Because they could hit their spots. My son played 4 years of college ball recruited as a pitcher but once the coach saw his arm he made him an infielder (position he played while not pitching) I don't think this would of happened if he would of been taught not to throw hard. He played 3 years of minor ball until a freak accident when a player slid and broke his leg. He has hung his cleats up but still speaks to young players and passes on use your mechanics and throw hard

rick (not verified)

Unfortunately, all kids will not be able to throw hard just by throwing hard. And according to Dr. James Andrews, the foremost expert on arm injuries resulting from throwing says that throwing as hard as you can is more harmful to an arm than anything else. I know several kids down here in Florida that have had significant arm injuries yet were not pitchers, or never threw a curveball if they were pitching. So the answer lies between being gifted with an arm that can recover from repeated stress and proper mechanics regardless of what pitch is being thrown. But without question, appropriate care of a young arm and overuse is the cornerstone of preventing arm injuries.

Lantz Wheeler (not verified)

Hey Rick,

Please show me the study where Dr. Andrews stated throwing hard is more harmful than anything else. I work closely with several of his partners and I have never once heard any of these doctors mention this.


Mike P (not verified)

Great Advice

jason (not verified)

Your stupid.....

Chad (not verified)

I started mixing in a hook at about age 16. My father taught me a 4-finger explosion knuckleball before that and how to utilize two differnt fastballs and a three-finger change up.
Everything was started and finished off of the fastball.
In HS, I got the little 4-seamer up to around 88 or so, and following that up with a 64mph knuckleball that I could throw for a strike was not much fun for the hitters. Sadly, in college, pitching coach wouldn't allow knuckleball (didn't have a catcher who could handle it), and I went to a three-pitch regiment. Elbow injury took fastball from upper 80's to low 80's and I had to move curveball to #1 pitch. Point to be made is that with location & movement, a fastball is the most important pitch you can throw, specifically if you've developed velocity and are smart enough to pitch backwards, change your sequencing, and out- think a hitter (three in a row for example).

Thanks for the good read & spot on.

zach music (not verified)

My arm was ruined at 12 years old from learning to throw a curveball at age 10. It was a beautiful curve ball and was effective. Though looking back not worth it. After the damage was done I quit the curve and learned a 3 finger knuckle ball. It was even cooler than the curve, watching the ball shake and the bottom drop out of it at 12-13 years old was impressive. But unfortunately the damage was done and had to stop playing at 13. I could no longer pitch more than 2 innings without agonizing pain from my elbow. In my late teens and early 20's I got my umpire license and whenever I saw a youngster throwing a curve. I would always express my concern to the coach or parent after the game. Good article.

Arnold A. Gooch (not verified)

Unfortunately many coaches don't know how to teach throwing the curve ball without putting stress on the elbow . If thrown properly it puts no stress on the elbow . At releasing the ball if they just keep in mind to pull down the shade with their 2 finger grip out in front to the catcher they will get that good 12-6 break . Best way to learn it is to have the person on their knees and close to the receiver and just concentrate on pulling down the shade to get that ball to spin 12-6 , just throwing it easy till they can see that nice spin . Once they get that good spin then increase the distance . When in full wind up they will need to shorten the stride foot a little to help them get on top of the ball . DO NOT twist the wrist and elbow . My son had a fantastic curve ball and this is how we accomplished it . Was drafted by the Rockies out of high school in the 10th round . Good luck and hope this helped .

Brandon (not verified)

Let's get real. Kids are going to learn the curve-ball at an early age if you teach them or not. Why? Because their peers are going to show them how and unless you are with them every time they are throwing a baseball making sure they don't do it, then they are going to do it. The key to is teach them the correct way at that early age before their peers get to them. I LOVE the pulling down the shade idea throwing from the knees. I use that with my 13-15 year olds. I was scouted by the Florida Marlins starting in 2001 by Ty Brown when I was 18. He wasn't at the game to see me, but when he saw me throw a curve ball in warm-ups, he decided to stay around. So a curve ball WILL keep scouts around even if you don't throw that hard. I was throwing mid-80's at the time. He put me on a diet and a workout routine and by time I was a senior in High School, I was hitting 90-92 on the gun. It had nothing to do with "trying to throw harder". It had everything to do with mechanics. Truth me told, it doesn't matter how hard you pitch, changing speeds and batter eye-angles is all that matters. All pro's can hit a fast ball and all pro's can hit a flat curve ball, but have a change-up that is 8-10mph slower than that fast ball... then you're on to something. Just ask Pedro Martinez. On that note, I DO tell all my pitchers that I WILL NOT call curve balls or change-ups unless you can throw your fastball for a strike, so accuracy over speed ANYDAY.

Coach Terry (not verified)

Everything in this article is correct.
I don't see the surprise in the idea that the fastball set's the cb up, or a good changeup, or even the back of the wrist to the sky hard slider.
I've always taught pitchers to get ahead with the fb.
Perfect pitching approach,
4 seam
2 seam cutter
Off speed pitch.
After3 innings,
Pitch backwards.
Off speed first,
Fb next.
Location, location, location is key.
Work Hard!
Coach Terry Steward

Brandon (not verified)

The best two pitches in baseball are a located fastball and a change up. The bottom-line is hitting is about balance. Those two pitches thrown effectively will get out 90% of HS hitters because of their inability to stay balanced and weight back. The curve ball should be taught when a players shoulder and arm development call for it. That is usually a year or two after puberty. All kids are different in their development therefore there is no definitive age. THROW CHANGE UP'S they don't hurt the arm.

Mark K (not verified)

Good stuff Lantz. Thank you. Your opinion please, shut it down for 3 months or crank it up? It seems that developing velo, location & feel would neccesitate bullpens in the off season. Maybe flat ground but..? Is there an age when your answer would be might change?

Lantz Wheeler (not verified)

Hey Mark-

Thanks for commenting and great question!

Yes, it's different for younger kids. The best thing you could do for your son, and his future, is put the baseball down and play another sport, any sport!


Zackree triplett (not verified)

are u certified

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